Caf Competitions: A Quest to be the Best

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  • Post published:March 2, 2022

SoccerClub assesses South African clubs’ prospects in the hunt for continental glory this season, written by NKARENG MATSHE.

Mamelodi Sundowns (Champions League, Group A, to face Al-Ahly, Al-Merreikh and Al-Hilal)

Sundowns have become South Africa’s most consistent side in the Champions League, having qualified for the competition a record 10th time in succession. Having won it in 2016 under Pitso Mosimane, they have not come close since with their best effort being a semi-finals spot three years ago.

Last season, they were timid in being eliminated by the Mosimane-led Al-Ahly in the quarter-final, but the Brazilians feel they have a greater chance this time despite drawing the Egyptian giants in the group phase.

Much will depend on how they fare on away trips, especially to Sudanese duo of Al-Merreikh and Al-Hilal. If they finish in the top two they would need to overcome giants like Moroccans Wydad and Raja Casablanca, as well as Zamalek.

Sundowns, however, have strengthened the manpower since last season, with Surprise Ralani the latest addition to a squad almost guaranteed another domestic league title. Wrapping that up early should enable them to channel all their energy toward another Champions League title.

Verdict: They can upset Al-Ahly in the group but even if that fails they should still finish in the top two and from there should be pushing for at least a semi-final slot.

AmaZulu (Champions League, Group B, to face ES Setif, Horoya and Raja Casablanca)

It’s been an incredible journey for Usuthu to arrive at this stage. First they confounded sceptics by finishing in the top two of the domestic league and then went through the preliminaries unscathed before upstaging the mighty TP Mazembe of DR Congo to earn a spot in the group phase.

Many would say Benni McCarthy’s side have already overachieved by making it this far in their first Champions League sojourn but the former Bafana Bafana striker is an ambitious man and will be demanding more.

AmaZulu have a mammoth task, facing Raja Casablanca – last season’s Confederation Cup winners who made light work of Orlando Pirates. It doesn’t help that Usuthu is arguably a weaker side than it was last term.

It is something McCarthy has talked about publicly at length and signs that they are struggling have been seen in the Premiership, where they are languishing in lower-mid table.

Facing tough nuts in Raja, 2014 winners Setif of Tunisia and Guinea’s Horoya, who’ve given all South African opposition problems before, makes AmaZulu overwhelming underdogs in this group.

McCarthy has cried out for funding to beef up of the squad but so far his pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Verdict: They may have pipped Orlando Pirates to second spot last season and TP Mazembe to the group phase , but going any further will almost certainly be a bridge too far. Will be lucky to finish third in this group.

Orlando Pirates (Confederation Cup, Group B: to face Al Ittihad, JS Saoura and JS Kabyile or Royal Leopards)

Pirates emerged from the group phase last year but were let down in the last match away to Nigerians Enyimba, where they conceded in the last minute to lose top spot. That meant they faced tougher opposition, Raja, who had won all their six group games without conceding, in the quarter-final.

Predictably, a Buccaneers side who were still finding their feet, were humbled in both legs by the eventual champions. Pirates shouldn’t repeat the same mistake this time around, having arguably been given a kinder draw.

Algeria’s JS Kabylie’s position was not confirmed at the time of writing as they had a second-leg tie against Royal Leopards of Swaziland (due Jan 26. Update?) to play. Bucs should back themselves to overcome both, as well as JS Saoura and Al Ittihad.

Pirates have blown hot and cold in the domestic league but found some much-needed form toward the end of last year after the return from injury of Thembinkosi Lorch. The striker formed a promising combination with Kwame Peprah in attack.

Consistency will be key if they are to go further than the last eight this time around.

Verdict: Bucs have what it takes to top their group and, if that happens, they can avoid big guns in the last eight and stand a greater chance of a deep run in the tournament and even a shot at the trophy.